Graham Gooch has spelled out something that no one at Cricket Australia is prepared to publicly say - Twenty20 is "chipping away" at the skills required of Test batsmen, and Gooch, England's batting coach, works every day to ensure his men are not eroded as Australia's have been.
In the aftermath of the Lord's Test, the England captain, Alastair Cook, spoke warmly of Gooch, a figure often derided in Australia for his travails during the 1989 Ashes series but an exemplar of diligence, patience and commitment to the art of run-making. Joe Root's pivotal 180 after Australia's batsmen had surrendered their first innings for a paltry 128 was a 21st century facsimile of many a Gooch innings, and the mentor said multiple formats had made it ever more difficult to foster such patience among young batsmen.
"There's three formats of the game now … the basis of Test cricket is that it's a hell of a long game, five times 90 overs is a long, long game," Gooch said. "So it's about skills in batting, about run-making, about the whole package of not only having the technical skills but having the attitude, the mental toughness, the discipline, and the concentration. Anyone can concentrate for 15-20 minutes, but to score Test hundreds you have to concentrate for a long period of time. Those skills I think worldwide are being chipped away at the edges by the amount of one-day cricket and T20 cricket.
"If you're a traditionalist and like Test cricket and think that's the pinnacle and the benchmark, you know you can see with the number of competitions that are popping up and the rewards that are available in terms of finance … the possibility of it chipping away at the edges of the traditional game, and that's the same for every country. You've got to work hard to try to keep your players on track and obviously try to educate them as well as you can on the skills and the mental skills that are necessary to bat long. It's a different type of skill."
While it is clear that at the present moment England are successfully developing batsmen of the requisite obstinacy and technical purity to survive for long periods, Gooch spoke of the need for eternal vigilance to ensure that the balance was not lost. He also mentioned the ability of the best players to differentiate between conditions, using the right "tools" for the variety of surfaces offered in England, Australia and the subcontinent.
"Way after I finish this issue will still be alive and kicking," Gooch, who will turn 60 on Tuesday, said. "I'd hate to think that traditional skills get eroded and diluted because the specialist spinner, the specialist fast bowler, the skills of the batsmen are, for me, what make the game so great. Playing on a surface like here [Lord's], or the SCG or Brisbane or Perth where it bounces. A batsman to score runs needs different skills for different wickets, and as a batsman and run-maker you have different tools in the bag, but you don't take all the tools out every time you play."
As for the magnitude of England's victory, earning the hosts a 2-0 series lead that has only ever been overhauled once in the history of all Ashes contests, Gooch said some of his pupils would not fully appreciate it until later years. On the topic of Australia he was taciturn, but left ample room for the results to speak for themselves.
"I think we suffered quite a lot [in the past], I did manage to win the Ashes three times actually but I did suffer quite a lot," Gooch said. "I don't know how some of them would know the historical significance, some probably wouldn't. I think mainly they're interested in winning each match they come up against. Australia are giving it their best, it's not for me to comment on their performance, that's down to their management and their system. We try to get our players in the best possible condition to win."